I’m a North Shore lifeguard in Hawaii. That means I’m actually a civil service employee. Tax status SR19, Step I: that’s $44,400 a year, $3,700 a month, $170.80 a day or $21.35 an hour–that’s before state and federal taxes, health and dental-plan deductions, union dues and retirement-plan contributions. This in the state with the highest cost of living in the country. Travel and vacations are expensive luxury items. There are no photo or contest incentives. Homie don’t get off the rock much.

So it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting at Honolulu International anxiously waiting for Hawaiian Airlines (running on a Hawaiian time) to whisk me to LAX. Get this: For the first time ever–and a full 20 years past my prime as a bodysurfing competitor–I’m going to compete in the 26th annual World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside. A benevolent company called Da Fin is covering my expenses…go figure. But with a little time to kill I call Solana Beach transplant, “retired” pro surfer and budding clothing entrepreneur Doug Silva looking for his sometimes traveling partner Kelly Slater’s very private phone number. Figure we might cross paths on the Mainland.

Dougie delivered while casually mentioning the itinerary and roster for the latest Sumatran boat trip he booked, departing the very next Tuesday. I’m sick with envy. I’ve never been to Mexico much less Indo. But Doug’s got a dilemma. Seems he and his girlfriend, Pili, have put a down a non-refundable chunk of change on a long-planned Las Vegas junket. Their relationship could use it. Of course it’s right during the planned Indo adventure. I know they’re big trunks to fill, but like a true friend I asked Dougie if I could help.

“Do you want me to go to Las Vegas with your girlfriend or take your slot on the mothership?”

A surf trip of a lifetime with a Cooperstown Hall of Fame cast of characters was dangled in front of me, and I already headed in the right direction. Not quite halfway there, but moving nonetheless. I chased it, crashed the party and got on board. My cell phone and Visa bills would vouch for both my tenacity and fiscal abandon.

I knew it was going to be worth every penny, and on a number of levels. Consider my shipmates: a group of the world’s best surfers who’ve grown up in my backyard. From my seat in the tower at Pipeline, I’ve seen every one of these young men come into his power as a surfer–but have hardly seen them surf anywhere else.

As a bodysurfer, my perspective over the years has been more from water level than from the regular promo pack and surf media–I literally look up to all these guys, and enjoyed the proximity and the intimacy afforded by an exclusive boat trip to develop distinct impressions of each one.

Consider it my two-cent’s worth. My last two cents.

The kid is dialed in. But he’s not a kid anymore. He’s not new school or old school–he’s president of the university. A couple of years off the tour, the recent death of his father–but he appears at ease, sort of. Those piercing eyes always seem to have tons going on behind them. Phone stuck in his ear, always looking out for an Internet connection. We mortals can only imagine his options. Rock stars and movie stars is one circle of friends. The boys on the boat is another. At airports, hotels and in the line-up I saw people falling all over themselves to have a photo of and/or with Kelly. I called them Slaterazzi. Imagine the patience and humility to put up with that.